Premier League preview: Arsenal now ready to reclaim title, Chelsea to prioritise Europe and Manchester United neeed a striker

 
Trevor Steven
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Arsenal have that winning feeling (Source: Getty)
For the first time in more than a decade it feels like the conditions are right and the ingredients in place for Arsene Wenger to add to his three Premier League titles.
Retaining the FA Cup and improving on their league position last season will have given Arsenal belief that they are getting closer, a feeling only reinforced by last week’s Community Shield defeat of Chelsea.
It means the Gunners can begin the new season this weekend with real confidence that they are good enough to topple the Blues and, this time, ride out any disappointments that come along.
Wenger’s squad is now broad, full of quality, and able to cope with a few injuries. Petr Cech’s arrival has been a massive boost. As well as top goalkeeping, he brings a calming influence to the defence.
There are goals everywhere you look. Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are among six or seven players who can be expected to be regular scorers.
They still have time to strengthen further, but I think they already have everything they need to lift the trophy for the first time since 2004.
Chelsea were comfortable champions last term and have the same core of players this time, but there are a few reasons to doubt whether they can be the first club to retain the title for six years.
Jose Mourinho has not been a big player in the transfer market, with striker Radamel Falcao his most significant signing, and the Colombian, who flopped at Manchester United, still looks a fish out of water.
Captain and defensive rock John Terry defied the ageing process to have a brilliant last campaign, but he’s now another year older and, should he succumb to injury, I could see it triggering a Blues slump.
It’s always difficult to retain the title, as recent history has shown. Players have to do it all again, and sometimes at decisive moments other teams just have that extra half a per cent more hunger.
I also suspect that Mourinho might prioritise the Champions League. He had to win the Premier League in his second spell at the club, and now that’s done he’ll have his eye on claiming the top prize for what would be a fourth time but a first in west London.
Chelsea still make second place, for me, ahead of Manchester United, who still appear to have question marks over key areas, not least in central defence, where I fear Phil Jones will make errors.
Up front, they look very reliant on Wayne Rooney to play a whole season as a centre-forward, something he hasn’t done for a few years. He’ll probably get 20 goals, but what if he gets injured?
They need another striker, and I maintain – as I said in this column a few weeks ago – that they could do a lot worse than taking Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even if just for a season.
Neighbours Manchester City, who I have down for fourth, also look to have too many uncertainties about them, such as how they plan to get the best out of £49m Raheem Sterling.
I watched City play Stuttgart in pre-season and he was playing as a lone striker, running all over the place in an unfamiliar role. I expect he’ll play off Sergio Aguero, as he once did off Luis Suarez at Liverpool, but Aguero is not the creator of goals that Suarez was. I’m not sure the mix is right.
Other first-teamers, such as Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, don’t look the players they once did, while I think they may rue the departure of James Milner, who contributed a lot last season.
Then there is the question of Manuel Pellegrini’s future. I think the manager knows it will be his last season at the club, and the players will too – and that does not tend to help anyone.

Relegation tips

Leicester mustered an incredible effort and a miraculous escape from relegation in the final weeks of last term, but they surely cannot do it two years in a row. That squad doesn’t look strong enough to pick up points in the middle of the season, while new boss Claudio Ranieri has been out of English football a long time – and isn’t that great either.
Like Burnley last time, Bournemouth look to me like a side that will struggle to score the goals necessary to stay in the top flight for a second season.
That leaves one more relegation spot, and I admit I found it hard to choose between the other promoted sides, Watford and Norwich.
Watford have a new manager in Quique Sanchez Flores, who, having met him a few times, I can attest has all the qualifications: great knowledge, excellent English, and he’s a good guy.
The Spaniard will need to get the Hornets off to a decent start, but I just have a feeling that they will do better than Norwich.
The Canaries have bought smartly, bringing in tried and tested Premier League players such as Robbie Brady and Graham Dorrans, but their manager Alex Neil has only been there six months. Can he step up again? I’m not sure.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who now works as a media commentator.

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